TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF, AMSTERDAM EDITION
Although it seems like only yesterday that we picked up the new group of Spring students from Schiphol airport, in actuality, three weeks have passed -- in a haze of orientations, first days of class, and a daytrip that our students will not easily forget. It is my pleasure to unpack them all here, in the first newsletter of the Spring 2014 semester of the CIEE Social Sciences program in Amsterdam.
1. Arrivals, orientations, and lessons learned
Our newest group of students arrived in Amsterdam on Monday, January 27th; many of them, however, had decided to arrive a couple of days early, in the hopes of beating the jetlag ahead of our three-day orientation program. (A succesful strategy, as I am happy to report that far fewer heads were caught fighting a losing battle against gravity than last semester!) On each day of our orientation, we covered a different aspect of students' study abroad experience: while one morning was devoted to practical matters (including, for example, a master class on biking and, crucially, best bike-parking practices), another dealt with Dutch academic culture and the ins and outs of studying at the University of Amsterdam, while one afternoon was devoted to the many activities organized by CIEE throughout the term (more on those in my next newsletter!). Although some of these topics may be a little dry, we find that they go down much easier when served with a stack of Dutch pancakes on a Dutch "pancake boat" -- which is exactly what you think it is, i.e. a floating pancake paradise:
2. Adds, drops, and the beginning of classes
The spring semester at the University of Amsterdam officially started on Monday, February 3rd, which also marked the beginning of the so-called "add-drop period," which is somewhat of a misnomer, because, as students soon learn (much to their chagrin), the University of Amsterdam does not allow students to add courses to their schedules. To mitigate this situation, most students were pre-enrolled in more classes than they needed, which means that they had two weeks to sample classes, compare-and-contract syllabi and, ultimately, drop their classes that meet on Friday afternoon and Monday morning. The closing of the add-drop window coincided with our First General Meeting, during which we checked in with our students both to get a sense of how they were doing after two-weeks-and-a-half in Amsterdam, to preview upcoming events, and to have students enrolled in our CIEE Dutch Culture class present their findings after heading out into the city and exploring some of its famous and lesser-known neighborhoods.
3. Blasts from the past in Marken and Volendam
In CIEE tradition, we cap off students' orientation program with a daytrip, during which we take students out of the city to give them a taste of Dutch life outside of the hustle and bustle of the capital. This semester, we chose to have our students explore two towns that speak to the Netherlands' long-standing and complicated relationship with water. The town of Marken is a throwback to an earlier way of living in the Netherlands, when sea-faring towns drew on the bounty that the erstwhile Zuiderzee provided, while their tarred-and-raised wooden houses were meant to protect against that former sea's frequent advances into the town. When, in the 1930s, the Zuiderzee's access to the North Sea was closed off and the sea was transformed into a man-made lake, the threat of floodings subsided and the town of Marken remained as a testament to the Netherlands' once proud (but perilous) maritime history.
While the town of Volendam retains an authentic Dutch feel, the adjacent town of Volendam took a different, more tourist-oriented approach to their newfound status, which translates into bolder colors and very many opportunities to have your picture taken while donning old-timey Dutch costumes. Needless to say, we could not resist having our students partake in this re-enactment of Dutch life circa some undefined point in the past, which, not unexpectedly, turned into a selfie extravaganza:
I do not think there could be any better proof/photographic evidence that your students are enjoying their time in the Netherlands, and I think I speak for everyone at the office when I say that we could not be more excited about spending this semester with them!
All best wishes and many "groeten" (greetings) from the Netherlands,
Program Coordinator Social Sciences